Friday, April 15, 2011

The ADA does not recognize the right to be left alone

The Americans With Disability requires employers to accommodate your disability. They have to do this if the accommodation allows you to do your job. We call this a "reasonable accommodation" under the statute. Not every accommodation is reasonable.

The case is Theilig v. United Tech Corp., a summary order decided on March 24. Theilig certainly had a disability under the ADA,having taken leave for heart surgery and receiving treatment for severe depression. To make a long story short, he wanted to work from home for two months. That could work in this day and age, with the Internet, email and videoconferencing and all, but not this case. Plaintiff wanted to work from home with "no direct person to person contact and definitely none with his previous co-workers." His psychiatrist said that the working with certain colleagues, in particular, with two supervisors, posed a risk of workplace violence or suicide.

This is not going to work under the ADA, the Court of Appeals (Katzmann, Raggi and Lohier) says. I have no idea what happened to this guy at work that he risks violence if he works again with his supervisors, but working home alone is not a reasonable accommodation, even in the modern electronic era. The Court of Appeals concludes:

While there is no per se rule against a change in supervisor, “[t]here is a presumption ... that a request to change supervisors is unreasonable, and the burden of overcoming that presumption (i.e., of demonstrating that, within the particular context of the plaintiff’s workplace, the request was reasonable) therefore lies with the plaintiff.” Here, where Theilig requested to have no contact whatsoever with any co-worker or supervisor, we conclude that he has not carried his burden of “identifying an accommodation ‘the costs of which, facially, do not clearly exceed its benefits.’”

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